New England Patriots Bill Belichick and University of Florida coach Urban Meyer are good friends. To be completely honest, they have quite the close relationship. The enormity of their coaching friendship was confirmed when New England drafted not one, but two defensive players from Gainesville almost one after another.
The Patriots selected fomrer Gator Jermaine Cunnigham with the 53rd overall pick in this year's Draft. At 6-foot-3 and 266 pounds, Cunningham is a player of increasing athletic ability, and showed promise of becoming a solid line backer capable making plays by shedding blockers.
Cunningham's college statistics are notable. In the duration of his four-year career he recorded 19.5 sacks, five forces fumbles, 153 total tackles and 11 quarterback pressures. Although Cunningham is not the top prospect that comes to come to mind when it looking at players who could improve the Patriots' pass rush, having played as defensive end in Florida he learned how to be versatile enough to become as an inside or outside linebacker. Cunningham's teammate, 6-foot-6 278-pound defensive end Carlos Dunlap was believed by many as New England's choice, Dunlap was projected to go earlier than Cunningham. Even with similar statistics, playing under the same defensive system, Dunlap apparently lacked the intangibles to convince the Patriots to select him over Cunningham with both players available. It makes sense to believe that Meyer's discussions with the Patriots led them to favor Cunningham.
Cunningham , a 2009 AP second team All-SEC selection, has been hearing the praises of Coach Belichick and the Patriots for quiet some time now.
"You could see it a lot. Every year, at least once a year, Coach Belichick would come down and talk to the team," Cunningham said. "And just how much Coach Meyer would talk about Coach Belichick, what a great coach he is, how the Patriots do stuff."
Not long after the Cunningham selection, the Patriots grabbed inside linebacker Brandon Spikes with the 63rd overall pick. Armed with his shifty footwork and impressive blitz instincts, Spikes will add the assistance that Jerod Mayo was desperately lacking at the inside position.
Spikes had some minor behavioral issues, including a suspension for a game for attempting to serious injure Georgia running back Washaun Ealey. A finalist for the 2009 Butkus Award, Spikes was able to amass 307 total tackles, four fumbles, six interceptions, 6.5 quarterback sacks and 31.5 tackles for a loss over his career. A noteworthy fact is that while attending Florida, Spikes' defensive production numbers drastically decreased in his four years of college ball. This raises the question of just how much Spike's work ethic and dedication could change over time.
Cunningham spoke well of Spikes and his significance to the Gator defense "...He goes out there, and when he's clicking, the whole defense was clicking," Cunningham said of his former Florida and now current Patriot teammate. Other Florida players referred to Spikes as the core and center of the Florida defensive corps.
Quarterback Tim Tebow was the undeniable poster child for the 2010 Florida Draft class. Nearly everything about Tebow's playing days can be described as perfect. He had a successful collegiate career, was the Heisman Trophy winner in 2007, carried a spotless off-the-field record and on top of that, helped the Gators win a BCS Championship in 2008. As close to the perfect college player Tebow was, there he does - or rather did -- have a flaw. The flaw is as simple as a passing motion. It's not NFL perfect, and is arguably the most over-analyzed throwing motion in recent history of the Draft.
Over-analyzing didn't stop Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos from drafting the possible fullback or quarterback at 25th overall. If Tebow proves to be a legitimate threat as a quarterback, the Florida alum would be battling with Kyle Orton and newly acquired Brady Quinn for the starting job as Broncos QB.
With their decision to select both an outside and inside linebacker up in the second round, it's apparent that the Patriots are aware of the severe pass rush issues. Adding spikes and Cunningham can only help to address the unit's shortcomings.
The Florida draft class, including Joe Haden who went to the Cleveland Browns, will undoubtedly make an impact for Meyer's program in the NFL. It's is a bit difficult to say exactly how much of an impact those players will make right away, because BCS title notwithstanding, they'll all be looked at just rookies. But as former Defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo can attest, sometimes, a rookie can have an impact.
Kisha Tapangan covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for PatriotsInsider.com. To read more of her material, visit her blog at www.nrwithkisha.com . Follow Kisha on Twitter: @KishaT
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